The International Journal of Developmental Biology

Int. J. Dev. Biol. 51: 117 - 122 (2007)

Vol 51, Issue 2

NMDA-receptor blockade enhances cell apoptosis in the developing retina of the postnatal rat

Original Article | Published: 30 November -0001

María Hernández1, Inmaculada Guerrikagoitia2, Luis Martínez-Millan2 and Elena Vecino*,1

1Department of Cell Biology and 2Departament of Neuroscience, Faculty of Medicine, University of the Basque Country, Leioa, Vizcaya, Spain


During visual system development, programmed cell death occurs in order to facilitate the establishment of correct connections and synapses. During this period, glutamate plays a very important role as an excitatory neurotransmitter. With a view to evaluating if NMDA glutamate receptors participate in the regulation of apoptosis which occurs during the development of the rat retina, we subcutaneously injected the NMDA receptor antagonist MK-801 into rats at different stages of early postnatal development (P2 to P9). Ensuing cell death in the retina and superior colliculus was analyzed by using the Feulgen method. MK-801 administration had no effect on the survival of photoreceptor cells. In contrast, the presence of this antagonist induced a significant increase in the number of apoptotic cells in the neuroblastic layer (P7 and P8) and ganglion cell layer (P6-P8), as well as in the superior colliculus which receives afferent contacts from retinal ganglion cells during P7-P9. We conclude that during development, specific types of cells in the mammalian retina are critically dependent for their survival on glutamate stimulation through NMDA receptors. These findings thus throw fresh light on the mechanisms of development of the rat visual system by identifying NMDA glutamate receptors as participants in the regulation of apoptotic processes which occur during the initial stages of development.


apoptosis, retina, glutamate receptor, retinal ganglion cell, MK-801, NMDA

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